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Leave Me Alone vs. Let’s Get Along

Lawrence Bush
July 4, 2010

by Lawrence Bush
I fired a gun for the first time in my life this week. Three guns, actually. A 40-caliber glock, a 9-mm glock, and a Keltec .380. I’m on vacation in Columbia, South Carolina, visiting my daughter, who’s engaged to be married to a police officer. They took us to a firing range/gun shop, and I wore the protective ear muffs and smelled the burned gunpowder and pinched my finger to bleeding on the first shot and then got off about 40 rounds at a large paper target at about five yards. After the first couple of recoil shocks, I was into it. I want to do it again.
The gun shop sold a tremendous variety of guns and paraphernalia, as well as man-sized safes, and a sign hung from the ceiling warning, “We don’t call 911.”
The Southern mystique is challenging me in many ways on this vacation, especially today on July 4th. There’s a “Leave us alone” conservatism here, reinforced by guns, graced by courtesy and politeness — and it seems very much part of the continuum of American history, freedom, and accomplishment. As in, “Don’t tread on me.” As in, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” At the historic waterwheel site we visited along the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway (468 miles of stunning, peaceful beauty), where a single family in the 1800s built a mill, forged all their tools, grew all their food, wove all their clothing, and pursued their prosperity and autonomy with incredible vigor, I spoke with an old gentleman who was a volunteer docent there. “People ask me about politics,” he drawled, though I had said nothing about politics. ‘We don’t have politics, we just have our lives here. We just want to be left alone.”
“Leave Me Alone” — it seems an interesting, practical, non-utopian approach to the good life. It’s tempting even to this pinko Jew. And yet...
It took WPA and other federal monies to construct that Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway beginning in 1935. And it took more than a philosophy of “Leave Me Alone” to establish the National Parks Service, which oversees the Parkway (in a generous yet minimalist style).
It took more than “Leave Me Alone” to fight the American Revolution, recruit France to the American cause, create the Constitution, and weave a fabric out of the thirteen colonies.
It takes more than “Leave Me Alone” to build a prosperous state, which is perhaps why South Carolina is in the bottom third of the 50 states in education, poverty, in nearly every category of well-being.
And it takes more than “Leave Me Alone” to prevent BP from bleeding oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
There is an alternative to “Leave Me Alone,” of course: “Let’s Get Along.” It’s harder to achieve, and subject to abuse — there’s got to be a strong dose of “Leave Me Alone” for “Let’s Get Along” to work without coercion — but it’s what our interconnected world needs.
So I remain unarmed, pink, and Jewish, here in the Confederacy on this red, white and blue day.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.